For every 10 drone-related “good news” articles that blaze across the online media skyline every day, it’s almost universally true that the “one-bad-apple” drone groan will make the most headlines — case in point, the series of unfortunate UAV events that may have prevented firefighters from properly dispatching water-laden helicopters while battling wildfires in California.
CNN reports that five drones hovered over the flames last week in places where helicopters had been sent to fight the fire – creating potentially unsafe flight conditions and delaying the sky-bound bucket brigades for up to 20 minutes.
“Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities to report, but the 15 to 20 minutes that those helicopters were grounded meant that 15 to 20 minutes were lost that could have led to another water drop cycle, and that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen as many citizens running for their lives,” the San Bernardino County Fire Department spokesman Eric Sherwin told CNN.
Officials called the drone operators hobbyists and an investigation may be pending. The FAA had already placed temporary drone flight restrictions over wildfires, stating:
“Members of the public should not fly UAS over or near wildfires even if a TFR is not in place to prevent accidents and disruption of suppression operations. Individuals who are determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts may be subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution.”
In a statement to the media, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Gerrelaine Alcordo said: “Please stop flying hobby drones in the area. We can’t risk the choppers colliding with them. We could have loss of life.”
While errant or misguided hobbyists may hinder more than help firefighting efforts (or even anger those on the ground), fire departments are using drones to more effectively battle blazes and save lives. Two weeks ago, firefighters used a drone to save a teenager and a younger boy when they became stuck on a rock in the middle of a raging current on the Androscoggin River in Mechanic Falls, Maine. The Bedford Fire Department in Virginia now deploys a drone as a tool that “gives firefighters an aerial view and allows them to quickly respond in locations that may be hard to access in a large truck.”
“This can go places where we cannot go,” Bedford Fire Department First Lieutenant Matt Scott stated. “It’s going to take us several minutes up to hours to get to a particular location, where this can be there in a couple of minutes.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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